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His Sinaloa Cartel grew bloodier and more powerful, taking over much of the lucrative trafficking routes along the U.S. border, including such prized cities as Tijuana and Ciudad Juarez. Guzman’s play for power against local cartels caused a bloodbath in Tijuana and made Juarez one of the deadliest cities in the world. In little more than a year, Mexico’s biggest marijuana bust, 134 tons, and its biggest cultivation were tied to Sinaloa, as were a giant underground methamphetamine lab in western Mexico and hundreds of tons of precursor chemicals seized in Mexico and Guatemala.
His cartel’s tentacles now extend as far as Australia thanks to a sophisticated, international distribution system for cocaine and methamphetamines.
Guzman did all that with a $7 million bounty on his head and while evading thousands of law enforcement agents from the U.S. and other countries devoted to his capture. A U.S. federal indictment unsealed in San Diego in 1995 charges Guzman and 22 members of his organization with conspiracy to import over eight tons of cocaine and money laundering. A provisional arrest warrant was issued as a result of the indictment, according to the U.S. State Department.
He has been indicted by federal authorities in the United States several times since 1996. The charges include allegations that he and others conspired to smuggle "multi-ton quantities" of cocaine into the U.S. and used violence, including murder, kidnapping and torture to keep the smuggling operation running. He’s also accused of conspiring to smuggle heroin into the United States and money laundering.
In 2013, he was named "Public Enemy No. 1" by the Chicago Crime Commission, only the second person to get that distinction after U.S. prohibition-era crime boss Al Capone. Guzman faces a two-count indictment in Chicago charging him with running a drug smuggling conspiracy responsible for smuggling cocaine and heroin into the U.S. He’s also charged in New York with drug trafficking, murder, kidnapping and other crimes.
Guzman is still celebrated in folk songs and is said to have enjoyed deep protection from humble villagers in the rugged hills of Sinaloa and Durango where he has hidden from authorities. He is also thought to have contacts inside law enforcement that helped him evade capture, including a near-miss in February 2012 in the southern Baja California resort of Cabo San Lucas just after an international meeting of foreign ministers. He was vacationing in Cabo during a visit by then-U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.
"There’s no drug-trafficking organization in Mexico with the scope, the savvy, the operational ability, expertise and knowledge as the Sinaloa cartel," said one former U.S. law enforcement official, who couldn’t be quoted by name for security reasons. "You’ve kind of lined yourself up the New York Yankees of the drug trafficking world."
An estimated 70,000 people have been killed in drug violence since former President Calderon deployed thousands of soldiers to drug hotspots upon taking office on Dec. 1, 2006. The current government of Pena Nieto has stopped tallying drug-related killings separately.
Guzman’s success and infamy surpassed Colombia’s Pablo Escobar, who was gunned down by police in 1993 after waging a decade-long reign of terror in the South American country, killing hundreds of police, judges, journalists and politicians.
Growing up poor, Guzman was drawn to the money being made by the flow of illegal drugs through his home state of Sinaloa.
He joined the Guadalajara cartel, run by Mexican Godfather Miguel Angel Gallardo, and rose quickly through the ranks as a ruthless businessman and skilled networker, making key contacts with politicians and police to ensure his loads made it through without problems.
After Gallardo was arrested in 1989, the gang split, and Guzman took control of Sinaloa’s operations.
In 1993, gunmen linked to the Tijuana-based Arrellano Felix cartel attempted to assassinate Guzman at the Guadalajara airport but instead killed Roman Catholic Cardinal Juan Jesus Posadas Ocampo, outraging Mexicans.
Police arrested Guzman weeks later before his escape from El Puente Grande prison in 2001. At the time of his escape, Guzman had been serving a 20-year sentence for bribery and criminal association in a maximum-security prison in Mexico.
Stevenson contributed to this report in Mexico City. Spagat reported from San Diego, California, and Caldwell from Washington, D.C.
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